The stars might come out in October, but somebody has to hit behind them.
The theme of today's Pulse is the minor players who could have a major impact as the postseason goes on. We think of it as locating David Eckstein(notes) in '06, Scott Brosius in '98 or Pat Borders in '92, before they were World Series MVPs.
David Robertson(notes), Yankees. You know about Mariano Rivera(notes). And, by now, you know about Phil Hughes(notes), his transition from starter to eighth-inning man. Robertson gets the ball to those guys. Not surprisingly, right-handed hitters batted only .237 against him. He was even more effective against lefties, who hit .189. A big fastball and a power curve have brought 63 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings.
Orlando Cabrera(notes), Twins. Even before he hit a home run Tuesday to help push the Twins their final few inches, Cabrera had done more than his share to bring them back in the final two months. He's not Joe Mauer(notes), or Justin Morneau(notes), or Michael Cuddyer(notes), or even Jason Kubel(notes), but he brings a professional chippy-ness that gives a contender its attitude. It worked for the Red Sox, then for the Angels, and now for the Twins. Cabrera drove in 23 runs from Sept. 1 on.
Maicer Izturis(notes), Angels. If Mike Scioscia isn't going to get offense from Howie Kendrick(notes) (.148 batting average in past two division series against Red Sox), he'll go to Izturis, still underrated after five productive seasons in Anaheim. A switch-hitter, Izturis batted .302 with runners in scoring position, .311 with two out and runners in scoring position. In 13 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, he had three hits and walked six times.
Alex Gonzalez, Red Sox. Since Gonzalez showed up after a mid-August trade with the Reds, and after running through Julio Lugo(notes), Nick Green(notes) and Jed Lowrie(notes), the Red Sox are the league's best defensive team. The hope in Boston is Gonzalez can do for this club what Orlando Cabrera did for the '04 club, which was to bring up-the-middle stability. Gonzalez, second baseman Dustin Pedroia(notes) and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) are better than solid. Gonzalez, who has hit in the nine hole, has enough pop to keep a pitcher honest.
Juan Pierre(notes), Dodgers. While fun and easy to dismiss as an effective player for some, Pierre put his head down, got the Dodgers through the Manny Ramirez(notes) crisis, chipped in when other smaller issues arose, and gnawed off the ear flap on his batting helmet. Though unhappy as a fourth outfielder, Pierre batted .308, batted .315 with runners in scoring position, had a .372 OBP as a leadoff man, hit .320 against left-handed pitching, hit .326 as a pinch-hitter and hit .364 against the Cardinals. And he stole 30 bases.
Brendan Ryan(notes), Cardinals Another shortstop whose defense alone, like Gonzalez's, could turn a series. Ryan typically bats second for Tony La Russa against left-handed starters, and the Dodgers will start Randy Wolf(notes) and Clayton Kershaw(notes) in Games 1 and 2 of the division series. While Ryan actually hits right-handers better than lefties (.305 to .265), La Russa's other option in the two spot – Skip Schumaker(notes) – is less attractive. Ryan should be very comfortable playing the Dodgers. He went to high school in California's San Fernando Valley (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame). Most important, along with pilot Chelsey Sullenberger and others, Ryan is a finalist for the American Mustache Institute's top mustache award.
Carlos Ruiz(notes), Phillies. On a team loaded with stars and personalities, Chooch is unheralded and even overlooked, but the catcher has great touch with a pitching staff that trusts him. In that ballpark, pitchers need something – anything – to trust. Though he missed some time in late September with a sprained left wrist, Ruiz is expected to be at full strength against the Rockies. One of the heroes in the Phillies' World Series run last October (he batted .313 in the NLCS, .375 in the World Series), he ended Game 3 with a walk-off infield single.
Franklin Morales(notes), Rockies. Though Morales has had a tough go of it lately (seven runs in his last 1 2/3 innings, 12 runs in his last 5 1/3, 8.71 ERA in September and October), he still rides that 97-mph fastball and still is the best set-up answer Jim Tracy has for Ryan Howard(notes), Chase Utley(notes) and Raul Ibanez(notes). In three at-bats each against Morales, Howard and Utley are hitless, Howard with two strikeouts.
All right, then, we have our eight teams. And the Yankees finally let us know when they'd like to play. Shouldn't the commissioner have recognized the extenuating circumstances of the football game in Minneapolis and at least had the Yankees declare their series by Monday? It's not the Yankees' fault the Twins needed another game to win their division, but the commissioner could have considered having the Angels and Red Sox play today in Anaheim, giving the Twins a moment to compose themselves.
Sabathia's postseason ERA is bumping up against 8. From the Cleveland and Milwaukee experiences, Sabathia said in the final weeks of the regular season, he learned patience.
"Just to put less pressure on myself," he said. "Not try to win the game by myself. Let my team do that and just get that offense back on the field."
"If there are questions out there, they'll be out there until somebody says otherwise or does otherwise," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "As far as I'm concerned, CC's getting the ball and A-Rod's name is in the lineup."
The 276th start of his major league career will be Wolf's first postseason start. It comes a few miles from where he grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and 16 years after he pitched in the high school city championship game at Dodger Stadium.
Pardon Carpenter if he doesn't well up. He's 5-1 with a 2.53 ERA in eight postseason starts, 5-0 with a 2.20 ERA in six career starts against the Dodgers, and has won both of his careers starts at Dodger Stadium.